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Why Returning to College After Age 30 (Age 40, 50, Etc.) Might Be Just The Right Choice For You
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for

If you are over the age of thirty and thinking about returning to college, you should know that you are not alone. Far from it!

Not that long ago, college students who were older than twenty-five were frequently described by educators and college admissions officers as "non-traditional," but now more and more adult students are returning to college than ever before.

In fact, according to the F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions) page of, in 1970, "28 percent of all college students were 25 years of age or older."

In 1998 the number of adult learners had increased to 41 percent.

The number of students age 35 and older in degree-granting institutions has soared from about 823,000 in 1970 to an estimated 2.9 million in 2001 - doubling from 9.6% of total students to 19.2%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics."

Seven Valuable Tips for Returning to College

Professor Al Siebert, who has taught adult education and management psychology courses for over thirty years at Portland State University in Oregon, is the Director of The Resiliency Center and the co-author, along with Mary Karr, of The Adult Student's Guide to Survival & Success, 5th Edition.

He frequently speaks to groups of newly enrolled adult learners, and in a recent e-mail interview, he outlined seven useful tips that he always shares with them:

"1. If you have fears and concerns write them down. Then look to see how realistic they are and develop a plan for overcoming each one. For example, if you feel like you won't be able to study and compete with younger, traditional students, that is an unrealistic fear. After the first several class meetings, adult students calm their initial fears and typically do better in their courses than most of the younger students.

2. If you feel concerned about being able to pass tests, go to the college bookstore and look in the book section on "Study Skills." These books have practical guidelines on how to study and pass tests with high grades. Study skills books also show how to write excellent term papers.

3. Are you uncertain about a new career direction to take? The colleges in your area all have free career counseling services.

4. If you worry about how much your spouse and family will support your new life as a college student, some books and websites have guidelines on how to gain their cooperation, support, and encouragement.

5. If you are working while taking college courses, ask your employer to alter your work schedule during exam weeks. Most of them will.

6. If a course you need is offered at inconvenient time, take it at a nearby college. Afterward transfer the course credit back to your primary college program. All colleges offer and accept transfer course credits.

7. Do you need financial aid? There are many sources of scholarships, grants, and low cost loans for adult students. Inquire."

It's also a good idea to review internet resources that are specifically designed to serve the needs of adult learners, (such as Professor Siebert's site, and

Professors Deeply Value Classroom Contributions of Adult Students

One of the best aspects of returning to college a little later in life is that many professors greatly enjoy having adult learners in their classrooms. For instance, in a recent interview, Robert W. Greene, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of French at the State University of New York at Albany, stated that adult learners genuinely "want to be where they are, sitting in a classroom taking courses toward a degree."

In his 30-plus years of teaching experience, he observed that the adult learners in his classroom tended to "develop good study habits quickly, come to class prepared and seek to learn as much as they can in a course. In a word, they are motivated, thus are a pleasure to teach."

Greene also feels that adult students often "show their younger classmates that being committed to learning is a deeply satisfying way to live."

Throughout his teaching career, Professor Greene found that a great deal of learning took place in his classes that were composed of both younger students and adult learners. Just as his younger students benefited enormously from the wisdom of their adult peers, Greene also observed that the younger students were sometimes able to remind their adult classmates "just how exciting first intellectual stirrings are. Witnessing this kind of mutual intellectual enrichment in a classroom is particularly gratifying for the professor."

Greene acknowledges that adult students often have specific concerns.

For instance, sometimes they "feel nervous about returning to the classroom after having been away from formal study for some years." Whenever he sensed this particular anxiety in his adult students, Professor Greene would point out to them that "their maturity was more of an advantage than a disadvantage to them, and that their very presence in the classroom demonstrated to one and all that their passion to learn and to succeed in their studies was real."

About the Author contributing editor Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW, is the author of the e-book, Loving Simply: Eliminating Drama from Your Intimate Relationships, published in 2006 by, and the print book, Welcome to Methadonia: A Social Worker's Candid Account of Life in a Methadone Clinic, published in 2000 by White Hat Communications.

Her articles have appeared in Social Work Today, The New Social Worker, New Living Magazine, and other publications. After earning her MSW from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in1997, she provided counseling services, first at a methadone clinic, and later at an outpatient mental health treatment facility.

Ms. Baldino has been quoted about managing anger in relationships in Kathy Svitil's 2006 book, Calming The Anger Storm, which is part of the Psychology Today Here To Help series. She has also been quoted in such magazines, newspapers and online publications as For Me Magazine, Conceive Magazine, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Albany Times Union, The Tallahassee Democrat, Bay State Parent Magazine,,,, The Newhouse News Service, and Indianapolis Woman. She lives with her husband and children in Massachusetts.

Recommended Reading:

The Top Nine Steps to Set and Achieve Your Goals in 2006

Aging Gracefully: Enjoying a Vital, Fulfilling Life Regardless of Age

Want to Improve Your Memory? Go To Bed!


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